[The following essay was excerpted from a presentation on “Writing as Vocation” at the student media convention sponsored by College Media Advisers in Spring 09, New York City. See related presentation here.]
Why do you write?
Whatever your answers, they tend to break out along two dimensions: the esthetic and the persuasive.
On the esthetic side, we become writers because we enjoy words. We love language. We like to play with words. We’re curious. And we believe, as Joseph Conrad once observed, “there is not a place of splendor or a dark corner of the earth which does not deserve…if only a passing glance of wonder or pity.”
But we also become writers because we can bend our words to constructive ends. We see things. We want others to see them too, and to see them the way we see them.
For the journalist there is a tension here between objectivity and art, of course. In his book by the same title, Carl Stepp has called this Writing as Craft and Magic. He says we have to master the rules and unleash the muse. We learn to do interviews and we learn to use our intuition.
If you can manage this tension, you begin to call yourself a writer. But sometimes you become so focused on the technique and the technology you forget the sheer joy of it.
And this leads to the second question: Would you write, even if you couldn’t get a job doing it? Can you see yourself doing anything else? The answer to these questions helps you understand your vocation.
Vocation is an interesting word, from the Latin vocare, to call. Quite frankly, to see writing as your vocation will help you get through the flood of change overwhelming our profession.
Yes, we are the fourth estate, the defenders of free speech, the foundation of an educated citizenry upon which democracy and even civilization rests. But as important as that is, I’m not talking about that.
I’m talking about a more sacred sense that requires us to be stewards of our gifts and carriers of God’s grace. In this sense our work as writers is not divorced from our faith, it is an expression of it.
And this can sustain us, allowing us to adapt to new technologies and manage the uncertainty of an industry in transition. Things are shifting rapidly, and the channels for distribution are changing every day. You can follow the New York Times on Twitter. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer lays off 150 people and becomes an online only paper, just days after the Rocky Mountain Times folds.
But to see our writing as our calling allows us to weather these transitions, to become coworkers with God and thus transcend the temporal. We see our work as a gift and approach the task with integrity and humility. We care about our audience as we learn to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Augustine once said to love God and do what you will. He could say that because if you love God it changes your will as well as your heart. You do his will as you exercise the gifts He gives and pursue the passions He stirs up and find the joy He promises.
And this is where vocation begins.